Can you really make an entire meal that costs $5 or less? You sure can! I’m talking hearty meals that feed your entire family and leave you with leftovers! All for $5 or less: no coupons and no sales required.
FYI- I wrote this last year, but thought it would come in really handy now when we’re all faced with financial strain and a grocery store filled with limited ingredients. 🙂 My own mission succeeded. I’ve managed to stretch a meager grocery budget very far just by focusing on a few cheap meals a week. I hope it helps you!
I’m on a mission to cut my grocery bill in half this year. While a good part of that is shopping smarter (going to Aldi’s and Walmart versus more expensive yet closer grocery stores), my biggest savings comes from taking the time to plan cheap dinners that don’t feel cheap.
What does that mean? Basically, rather than buying a $3 frozen dinner that leaves me hungry an hour later, I’m actually making my own meals almost every night. For those who know me, this is HUGE. I spent most of my life avoiding the stove because I lacked confidence. I think that so many people joked about how I couldn’t cook that I just gave up before I even really tried. Turns out, I’m not half bad! I’m not going to be competing in the Chopped kitchen anytime soon, but most of my meals have turned out completely edible and even enjoyable.
So back to the goal: 50 real meals all costing $5 or less from start to finish.
Rule #1: No coupons required. If I have a coupon, great. However, the meal must be $5 or less before discounts. I want to build a list that I can pull from year-round, not just when I have a coupon.
Rule #2: No sale required. Again, if it’s on sale, great, but I want to be able to add a meal to my planner any time I’m in the mood for it, and not just when the store has chicken on sale.
Rule #3: It has to feed a family of 3 (preferably 4). I’ve seen lists of 500+ “meal” ideas that cost under $5, but a lot of the “recipes” are for just one person, maybe two if you eat like baby birds.
Now that we know the criteria, let’s check out my favorite meals that cost $5 or less!
$5 or Less Dinner Ideas
A few things before we get started.
- You’ll need to shop at places like Aldi’s or Walmart, and accept that store brand foods are just as good as the brand name in many cases.
- For recipes that include chicken breast, buy a large store-brand “family” pack. I can get 3 meals out of one $10 package if I’m smart about it.
- Same goes for ground chicken. I can usually get a 3-lb package for $8, versus $3-4 per single pound package. Just divide it up before you freeze it.
- Group recipes together so that you can use one large bag of something twice in one week, versus buying smaller bags that cost more money in the long run.
- I factored in every major ingredient when choosing these cheap dinner ideas, but I’m not going to sit here and calculate the cost of a teaspoon of garlic powder. I’m just not that mathematically inclined. For the recipes that use spices, I try to go with things most of us have in our cabinets, or that you can find at the dollar store in a pinch. So, no saffron! 😀
Cheap Chicken Dinners (and other recipes with meat)
The price tag on these recipes assumes you took my advice about buying larger packages of chicken, potatoes, and cheese, and that you’re not being a brand name snob. 😀
- Cheesy Chicken BBQ Bake (I use this recipe, but I layer the biscuits on the bottom of baking dish then top with ground chicken, BBQ sauce, and cheese)
- Deep Dish Taco Pie– use ground chicken instead of beef, I also use the $0.48 can of biscuits from Walmart instead of Bisquick mix, and I skip the green chilies because I don’t like them.
- Slow Cooker Salsa Chicken – since you can use any salsa, grab an inexpensive jar from Aldis or Walmart. You can eliminate or swap out spices that you don’t have.
- Sheet Pan Fajitas– I buy a frozen bag of fajita veggies at Walmart since it’s cheaper than fresh. One bag is enough for two meals for us.
- Slow Cooker Chili Mac– use ground chicken, it’s cheaper.
- Goulash- Cook some macaroni, brown some ground chicken, toss together with a jar of cheap marinara, add some mozzarella cheese, and it’s dinner!
- Creamy Baked Ziti (makes a 9×13 baking dish’s worth for $4!)
- Zesty Italian Poppy Seed Pasta Salad– surprisingly filling on it’s own, or serve with a side of homemade bread. Toss in some veggies if you want to make it healthier.
- Easy Cheese Egg Noodles
- Hot Open-faced Turkey Sandwiches- Throw some sliced turkey (deli meat is fine) in a pot, cover with gravy, heat up until both are warm. Pour over a slice of bread (I use Italian bread).
- Sloppy Joe Casserole– I use ground chicken instead and the cheaper Walmart biscuits.
- Instant Pot Salsa Chicken Soup
- Oven-baked Meatball Sandwiches– I use turkey meatballs (Walmart has a big bag for about $5.50 and you’ll use less than half the bag for three sandwiches).
- Skillet Taco Mac & Cheese– Again, use ground chicken or turkey (whichever is cheaper for you).
- Chicken & Biscuits– Uses a lot of chicken, but it’s thighs, which are cheaper than breasts.
- Grilled Turkey Taco Patties– Use regular egg whites. For the corn relish, you can eliminate anything that you don’t have on hand. Or just skip it and top with salsa.
- Glazed Brown Sugar Soy Sauce Chicken Thighs– Most of the ingredients are things you probably have on hand, so you just need to buy the chicken.
- Crock Pot Ranch Cream Cheese Chicken
- Lemon Chicken – Serve with noodles or rice.
- Chicken Parmesan– The recipe in the link helps you get more mileage out of the cheaper thick-sliced family pack of chicken breasts, which keeps it under $5.
- Buffalo Chicken Pizza– Make your own pizza crust to stretch your money even further. Most of the ingredients are spices and sauces that you should have on hand. If not, you know the drill: buy Aldis or Great Value brands.
- Teriyaki Meatball Bowls –Use the rest of those meatballs left over from meatball sub night.
- Spicy Chicken Quesadillas– You don’t even need a kitchen for this recipe! Just a Foreman Grill and/or a quesadilla maker.
- 30-minute Asian Beef Bowl – If beef is too expensive in your area, swap it with ground turkey.
- Three-ingredient Crock Pot Tacos – Tip: buy a bigger bag of tortillas and use the rest for egg wraps for breakfast throughout the week.
$5 Meatless Meals
Saving money on dinner is even easier when you go meatless! Check out these 25 cheap yet filling vegetarian recipes!
- Bagel, Egg and Cheese Sandwich– It’s a lot more filling than it sounds if you use good bakery bagels (versus the tiny frozen ones).
- French bread pizza– Slice day-old french or Italian bread in half, spread on a layer of sauce, toss on cheese, and bake at 400 for ten minutes. You can add veggies or other toppings if you want.
- Meatless Sloppy Joes– This one comes in at $5.61, but I’m including it because you can get a smaller can of crushed tomatoes to bring it down under $5.
- Homemade Mac & Cheese– Use my Storm of the Century Mac & Cheese as a starting point, but eliminate the Mascarpone unless you have it on hand. Feel free to swap it out with another type of creamy cheese, or increase the amount of actual cream cheese. Really, you can’t mess this one up. It was created based on things I could scrounge at a 7-11 during a blizzard!
- Hashbrown Egg Bake– Good for “breakfast for dinner” night. Skip the bacon to make it meatless, and toss in some peppers or tomatoes instead.
- Monster Veggie Salad– While a salad is usually more of a side, this one is loaded with inexpensive veggies that make it filling enough for a dinner.
- Eggplant Parmesan– Throw over some spaghetti for a heartier meal. This one is SO cheap and easy!
- Garlic Parmesan Pasta– It doesn’t get much cheaper than this! Aside from a box of pasta, you probably have all of the ingredients on hand right now.
- Egg Curry– This is such a unique way to serve eggs for dinner!
- Tomato Kale Spaghetti– Spaghetti gets a healthy upgrade with a few cheap veggies and spices you already have in your pantry!
- Lemon Garlic Asparagus with Pasta– This one uses Soba noodles for a nice change of pace, but you can use any pasta that you have on hand.
- Raw Vegan Tacos– Basically, you just need some good lettuce to use as the “shell,” then whatever veggies you have in your fridge. Check out a few variations here.
- White Bean Tortellini Soup – Along with being cheap, this soup recipe takes shockingly little time to prepare!
- Veggie Omelet– Omelets aren’t just for breakfast, especially when you load them up with inexpensive veggies, salsa, or other ingredients from your fridge. Need inspiration? Try this one!
- Hearty Baked Spinach and Tofu Casserole
- Bean and Cheese Quesadilla– You’ll just need three ingredients for this healthy and filling cheap vegetarian dinner recipe.
- Southwestern Cheese Panini – Since it uses just a smidge of cheese, it’s a great way to use up the scraps at the bottom of the bag.
- Red Lentil Stew– Another non-pasta option, this stew takes just about 20 minutes to make.
- Corn and Black Bean Chili– Buy a big bag of beans and use some for this recipe and some for those quesadillas above!
- Warm Tofu with Spicy Garlic Sauce– Tofu isn’t just cheap, it’s incredibly versatile. While boring on its own, combined with a spicy garlic sauce it’s like a gourmet meal for under $5!
- Greek Salad– Another salad that’s great as a side or as a main dish, it even includes an easy homemade dressing recipe.
- Quinoa Bowl– Toss cooked quinoa into a bowl, top with salad veggies and some seeds or nuts, add a little dressing, and voila, cheap dinner! Grab some quinoa bowl ideas here.
- Curried Chickpeas with Spinach
- Grilled Cheese and Apple Sandwich– the epitome of cheap meals- the grilled cheese- gets a grownup upgrade and still stays inexpensive!
- Stuffed Peppers– Bell Peppers aren’t exactly cheap (they’re a buck a piece here), but you can stuff them with just about anything, including whatever is in your fridge.
There you go! With these 50 cheap dinner recipes for $5 or less each, you can cut your monthly dinner bill down to about $150, give or take! Since dinner makes up more than half of our bill, it adds up to significant savings!